Ein­stein’s Jew­ish Sci­ence: Physics at the Inter­sec­tion of Pol­i­tics and Religion

  • Review
By – April 20, 2012

Einstein’s Jew­ish Sci­ence pos­es this ques­tion: Is Einstein’s The­o­ry of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty Jew­ish sci­ence? The Nazis thought it was, and author Steven Gim­bel lays out a pen­e­trat­ing and com­pre­hen­sive his­to­ry of their cam­paign to con­vince oth­ers of its — in their eyes — stig­ma­tized prove­nance. One of the more com­pelling sec­tions of Gimbel’s trea­tise looks back at the his­to­ry of oth­er promi­nent sci­en­tists, Galileo, Descartes, and New­ton, among them, to con­sid­er whether their sci­en­tif­ic work sim­i­lar­ly reflects their reli­gious beliefs.

Gim­bel con­cedes that his cen­tral ques­tion itself begs the ques­tion: Was Ein­stein Jew­ish? It’s not a nov­el query, but it’s one that Gim­bel con­sid­ers adept­ly and exhaus­tive­ly. He mas­ter­ful­ly recounts the polit­i­cal and cul­tur­al milieu dur­ing Einstein’s life and its impact on science.

Despite its front-page place­ment in The New York Times Book Review (August 5, 2012), this book is much more a schol­ar­ly read than a pop­u­lar one. In his intro­duc­tion Gim­bel begs the indul­gence of the read­er through the wind­ing intel­lec­tu­al paths” of the book, and twist they do. Ulti­mate­ly, Gim­bel makes the pro­found point that rel­a­tiv­i­ty, which assumes an absolute truth, but one which is not avail­able to any par­tic­u­lar frame of ref­er­ence, requires diver­si­ty with­in the mind.” And this way of think­ing, rem­i­nis­cent of Tal­mu­dic argu­ment, reveals that larg­er truth that is too big to fit into one perspective.”

Through­out, I couldn’t help but ask, if I’m not an aca­d­e­m­ic his­to­ri­an of Ein­stein and his times, why do I care if rel­a­tiv­i­ty is Jew­ish sci­ence or not? Gim­bel gets to the rel­e­vance of the the­sis in the last chap­ters, and I wish the book were reor­ga­nized back to front. Still, I was nev­er com­plete­ly con­vinced that this isn’t a sub­ject that expired with the Third Reich. Index, notes.

Addi­tion­al Reading

Addi­tion­al titles on Ein­stein can be found here.

Juli Berwald Ph.D. is a sci­ence writer liv­ing in Austin, Texas and the author of Spine­less: the Sci­ence of Jel­ly­fish and the Art of Grow­ing a Back­bone. Her book on the future of coral will be pub­lished in 2021.

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